They complained. They murmured. The glory of the latter seemed incomparable with the former. They didn’t know how hidden beauty could ever exceed that which was exposed.
Such was the case of these older men.
In Ezra’s day, when almost everyone was excited about rebuilding their fallen temple, these elders seemed to be playing the antagonists.
They were just dissatisfied.
While the majority
“sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
‘For He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever toward Israel,’ “
the elders were complaining.
Was the Lord good? Absolutely. He always has been.
So, what was the problem?
Well, it was quite a case of “our generation’s experience was quite better than this one’s. We’re quite better.”
Yeah, quite. Quite. I knew that sounded a bit awkward. But that had a purpose.
The little annoyance it evoked in you, dear reader, was meant to stir the pondering thought.
“And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.”
I’ve been quoting from the English Standard Version. That’s Ezra 3:11.
The foundation of the house of the Lord has been laid! It was indeed a reason for joy. The ones who shouted had been exiles. They had been exiled to the land of Babylon. By this time, after a great number of years, they have been shown the mercies of the Lord.
Not only are they now “the returned exiles,” they are also going to rebuild the temple of the Lord.
A Cause for Complaint?
So, how can a reason for joy be a cause for complaint?
Guess what. It was a case of comparison.
Comparisons are indeed a curse.
It has been the curse of many generations. It is still a prevailing curse now.
No, not if you mean comparing yourself to The One Altogether Lovely. No, not if you mean simply looking at Him as if He’s a mirror. No, not if you mean coming before Him in humility. No, not if you mean simply seeing yourself as you really are, for
“The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature.” – Steps to Christ, p. 64, par. 2
No, not if you mean any of these.
Apparently, comparisons are good for those who purpose to use the results in humility.
Examples of healthy comparisons
Some comparisons are a blessing. Some are simply innocent.
- Seeing yourself in direct contrast with Jesus (as mentioned above)
- Assessing your own progress in an area of knowledge in terms of a certain criteria
- Putting side-by-side two products or items you consider buying
- Figuring out the benefits or advantages of a new product against a standard
- Evaluating your past practices against your present ideologies
You can lengthen this list.
But before you do, let’s continue with our discussion.
When comparison becomes evil
So, when does an act of comparison become a cause of trouble? Well, we can also bring up a list.
- Seeing yourself as someone better than others
- Looking at your neighbors’ (read: Facebook friends’) achievements against yours
- Arguing against God’s revealed counsels against your own logic
Basically, that’s all. If you wish to add something to the list, you are most likely adding a version of any of the three I had already placed there.
In other words, comparisons become evil when it’s all about pride.
And pride is definitely a curse. As said,
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18, ESV
You see, when comparisons are born out of pride, the modus of comparison is identical to selfishness.
Let me repeat that.
Comparisons rooted in pride are selfish. Pride is simply selfishness, by the way.
Now, let me rephrase our list of three above for you to see this even more clearly.
- I am better than you.
- I have something better than what you have.
- I have wisdom better than Yours (God’s).
Again, these are comparisons that are already evil. Pride is evil. Selfish is evil.
You see, prideful comparisons simply say:
- my possessions
- my wisdom
In other words, you are inferior. I am better.
Me. Myself. I.
It is all about self.
Evil comparisons are all about self.
And When Does A Comparison Lead To A Complaint?
Well, it happens.
“I think I’m better off than him. What is he doing up there?”
You would hear that, or a something like that.
Well, you heard that. You heard that minutes ago when we first mentioned them. Yes, the elderly.
To give you what they did straight from the Biblical account, here’s the passage:
“But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid…” – Ezra 3:12, ESV
Notice the word “but.”
The word “but” did have a precedent. Remember what was happening in verse 11?
The people were praising the Lord!
Now, what was going on?
Basically, these elders were complaining. And how did the complaint come out? What was the basis of the complaint?
Wait, the passage is saying they were only weeping. Did it say they were complaining?
Apparently, yes. These—
“…old men who had seen the first house…”
—were seeing the second house. By the way, this is talking about the “house,” i.e., the temple “of the Lord.”
There’s a “first” and a “second” house. Apparently, those who have seen the first one are now seeing the second one. And it appears that the second one is quite inferior.
Well, it is, in many respects.
The “first” was Solomon’s temple. Nothing could be compared to it. It was dazzling. It had been accompanied by special tokens of God’s favor. The blessings showered even upon the dedication of that temple were amazing. God has given evidence of His favor by visible tokens of His presence.
And for this second one, even seeing just the foundation, was to these elders a cause for weeping.
They wept because they compared.
So, again, when does a case of comparison become a case of complaint?
Well, a complaint does not come when there’s nothing to lose.
And the elders were losing…the glory.
There’s truth in their findings—the findings they had from their case of comparison. The elders saw the foundation of the second house, they recalled the glory of the first house, and now they see a big difference.
The second house is really inferior to the first.
Here’s a side note:
Note that the second house has not yet been built. Only the foundation was laid.
In fact, to get ahead of myself, the second house would take years to finish—three generations of “heathen” kings had to witness the struggle of the returned exiles in rebuilding the temple.
So, imagine the elders getting ahead of themselves, complaining about something that was not yet even finished!
Back to the question: how does comparison become a complaint?
Basically, as I’ve mentioned, it’s all about wounded pride.
Yeah, I’ve only mentioned pride minutes ago. This time, the emphasis is on the modifier.
It’s about a wounded pride.
Well, let’s just say the elders had good intentions. I, for one, thought that what they were doing was just fine. I also thought their act of weeping was just fine!
But when I read the inspired writings for more insights into this chapter, I was stunned.
Insights from the Pen of Inspiration
It was natural that sadness should fill the hearts of these aged men, as they thought of the results of long-continued impenitence. Had they and their generation obeyed God, and carried out His purpose for Israel, the temple built by Solomon would not have been destroyed and the captivity would not have been necessary. But because of ingratitude and disloyalty they had been scattered among the heathen.
Conditions were now changed. In tender mercy the Lord had again visited His people and allowed them to return to their own land. Sadness because of the mistakes of the past should have given way to feelings of great joy. God had moved upon the heart of Cyrus to aid them in rebuilding the temple, and this should have called forth expressions of profound gratitude. But some failed of discerning God’s opening providences. Instead of rejoicing, they cherished thoughts of discontent and discouragement. They had seen the glory of Solomon’s temple, and they lamented because of the inferiority of the building now to be erected.
The murmuring and complaining, and the unfavorable comparisons made, had a depressing influence on the minds of many and weakened the hands of the builders. The workmen were led to question whether they should proceed with the erection of a building that at the beginning was so freely criticized and was the cause of so much lamentation. – Prophets and Kings, p.564
What a depressing blow!
Indeed, the elders have made the mistake of
- making “unfavorable comparisons“
—haven’t we mentioned that their “weeping” were actually expressions of complaint? Yes, we have!
And haven’t we mentioned that such complaints are born out of comparisons? Yes, we have!
And the elders—while it was “natural that sadness should fill” their hearts—”should have given way to feelings of great joy.”
They shouldn’t have murmured. They shouldn’t have “cherished thoughts of discontent and discouragement.”
But because they did, they have extended a “depressing influence on the minds of many, and weakened the hands of the builders.”
That was just a depressing blow, indeed!
Today’s Elders vs. The Noble Work of Some Youth
I couldn’t help but see through this story (which was not just a story but real history, by the way) the case of our youth today.
Some of us complain. Some of us murmur. We think we are better off than this generation of youth.
(I am using “we” to avoid sounding hypercritical.)
Yeah, we complain about these young people who are rebuilding the “house of the Lord”! We complain about their:
- spiritual programs
- missionary mindset
- zeal for revival
- desire for reformation
…and we think we’re better off than they? Is it because we’re “elders” that we’re better? Let me ask again. Are we even really any better?
Think for a while.
The “glory of the latter house will be greater”
Do you remember the promise made concerning the second temple?
“The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former…” – Haggai 2:9, KJV
The latter over the former? The second over the first?
Were the elders wrong?
Well, structurally speaking, the second house, when finished, was physically in no way greater than the first temple, Solomon’s temple.
But the promise of the LORD through the prophet Haggai was that the glory of this second house would be greater. How come?
It’s about Who’s inside
Remember how this prophecy of Haggai was fulfilled?
For centuries learned men have endeavored to show wherein the promise of God, given to Haggai, has been fulfilled; yet in the advent of Jesus of Nazareth, the Desire of all nations, who by His personal presence hallowed the precincts of the temple, many have steadfastly refused to see any special significance. Pride and unbelief have blinded their minds to the true meaning of the prophet’s words.
The second temple was honored, not with the cloud of Jehovah’s glory, but with the presence of the One in whom dwelt “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”—God Himself “manifest in the flesh.” Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16. In being honored with the personal presence of Christ during His earthly ministry, and in this alone, did the second temple exceed the first in glory. The “Desire of all nations” had indeed come to His temple, when the Man of Nazareth taught and healed in the sacred courts. – Prophets and Kings, p.597
And today, it’s still about Who’s inside!
We can talk about our gray hairs. We can talk about our flying colors. We can talk about our presumed wisdom. We can talk about our wealth of experience.
But none of these things matter!
It’s about Who’s inside!
And, dear youth—in case you might misinterpret this piece as if I’m being a defender in your case—beware.
Just because you are young doesn’t mean your fresh methods are always right.
Remember, it’s all about Who’s inside!
If you miss that point, the “elders” and you do not have any difference.
We do not have any difference between them who, for wounded pride, had caused the rejoicing young rebuilders—reformers—such a depressing blow!
The depressing blow caused an unnecessary delay
Could those who failed to rejoice at the laying of the foundation stone of the temple have foreseen the results of their lack of faith on that day, they would have been appalled. Little did they realize the weight of their words of disapproval and disappointment; little did they know how much their expressed dissatisfaction would delay the completion of the Lord’s house. – Prophets and Kings, p.565
If we keep on complaining…
If we keep on murmuring…
If we keep on discouraging the work of some of our noble youth of today, we will delay the rebuilding of the temple of the Lord—we will delay the reformation within the house of the Lord!
Take the Curse Out of God’s Church
As much as God longs to dwell in His physical sanctuary back in the Israelites’ day, God longs to dwell in the hearts of His church—His people today.
And as much as there needed to be a reformation among God’s people in the past, so there needs to be a rebuilding—a reformation within God’s church today.
But what do we see?
We’ve seen complaints. We’ve seen murmuring. We’ve seen wounded pride. We’ve seen countless careless words thrown overboard by those who despise
…”in” God’s house.
If we continue doing this, we’d be delaying the second advent.
We need repentance.
Enough with fancy church programs
It is when the vital principles of the kingdom of God are lost sight of, that ceremonies become multitudinous and extravagant. It is when the character building is neglected, when the adornment of the soul is lacking, when the simplicity of godliness is despised, that pride and love of display demand magnificent church edifices, splendid adornings, and imposing ceremonials.
But in all this God is not honored. He values His church, not for its external advantages, but for the sincere piety which distinguishes it from the world. He estimates it according to the growth of its members in the knowledge of Christ, according to their progress in spiritual experience. He looks for the principles of love and goodness. Not all the beauty of art can bear comparison with the beauty of temper and character to be revealed in those who are Christ’s representatives. – Prophets and Kings, p.565-566
Let us rather be unlike them
Enough is enough. The devil has made too many winnings in the match.
Let us let God win.
And let us be unlike them.
The glory of the latter, to them, seemed incomparable with the former.
They didn’t know how hidden beauty could ever exceed that which was exposed.